The Dodgers had seen Christian Yelich torment them enough so they opted to try something different in the seventh inning Saturday. With a runner at second base and first base vacant, they intentionally walked the Milwaukee Brewers’ sizzling slugger. It didn’t matter that they had left-hander Caleb Ferguson on the mound to face the left-handed-hitting Yelich with Ryan Braun, a right-handed batter, on deck. They preferred to face the veteran Braun, who was three for his last 37, than to grant Yelich another chance to play home run derby after launching two homers in the game’s first six innings and four in the series’ first three games. Yelich’s demolition rendered handedness secondary.
Boos rained inside Miller Park when Yelich was given the free pass without seeing a pitch. They were replaced by roars reverberating inside the domed building moments later, after the Dodgers’ strategy failed and Braun smashed a 94-mph fastball from Ferguson for a three-run home run to seal the Dodgers’ 5-0 loss.
“Fergy’s got weapons to get lefties and righties out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “With a guy who’s swinging a considerably hotter bat, you got to take you chances with the other guy. So we didn’t execute a pitch and Braun took a good swing on it.”
The blast was Braun’s first home run since April 6. It was the final blow to the Dodgers’ six-game winning streak, one that proved unnecessary to counter their atypical offensive performance. The Dodgers (14-9) mustered a season-low two hits, both singles, en route to their second shutout this season opposite spot starter Chase Anderson and three Brewers relievers. It was the first time Los Angeles didn’t record an extra-base hit this season.
“You still got to score runs and we didn’t tonight,” Roberts said. “And that’s going to happen, too. You got to tip your hat, those guys pitched well and they got hits when they needed.”
Hyun-Jin Ryu’s return from the injured list was, in a vacuum, a success. The left-hander held the Brewers (13-9) to two runs across 5⅔ innings in his first start since straining his left groin April 8. He compiled nine strikeouts to one walk. His problem was Yelich.
The Westlake High product resumed his destruction in his second plate appearance in the third inning. Ryu threw him a 1-and-2 changeup over the inside part of the plate and Yelich drove it to the opposite field for his league-leading 12th home run. The homer set the Brewers franchise record for home runs before the start of May.
“To be honest, I thought I executed my pitch,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “I did a good job of locating and commanding my pitch, but he just got there and put it in the stands.”
Yelich added to the total in his next at-bat, leading off the sixth, when Ryu hung a 69-mph first-pitch curveball. Yelich crushed it 421 feet, over the fence in right-center field.
“The first two times I faced him, I refrained from using my curveball, so I thought it was a good idea to switch things up, but he caught the curveball as well,” Ryu said. “And you just can’t deny the fact that he’s the hottest hitter at the moment and he just punished me like that.”
It was Yelich’s fourth home run of the series. All 13 of his home runs this season have come at Miller Park. He’s posted 29 of his 31 runs batted in at home. He has become Bondsian in Wisconsin.
A two-run lead, however, was far from insurmountable for a Dodgers offense that began the day leading the National League in runs scored. A few hours before the first pitch, Justin Turner was in the visitors’ clubhouse in search of an answer. He wondered how many innings starting pitchers were averaging against the Dodgers per start this season. He was sure the number wasn’t high. He assumed the Dodgers were among the league’s best at chewing starting pitchers and spitting them out.
The Dodgers third baseman pointed to his team’s work the previous two nights. Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin combined to allow two runs for the Brewers, but their pitch counts surpassed 90 in five innings, forcing manager Craig Counsell to pass the baton to his bullpen in the sixth. The Dodgers scored six runs against the Brewers’ relief corps en route to wins.
So he asked Chris Gimenez, the Dodgers’ game-planning coach, to ask a member of the team’s research and development department to crunch the numbers. Gimenez placed a call to someone back in Los Angeles.
The answer was 4.9 innings per start. On Saturday, Anderson went just five innings, but the context and the results were different. Anderson began the season in the bullpen and hadn’t thrown more than 43 pitches in an outing. Saturday was a spot start. It looked as if the Dodgers were going to apply the same formula against Anderson, the Brewers’ opening-day starter last year, after he allowed a leadoff single and a walk in a 34-pitch first inning. But he found a groove from there and didn’t give up another hit. He walked two while retiring 15 of the 17 final batters he faced.